One of the striking, paradoxical, extraordinary features of Jesus’ way and teaching is that those who do not resist his commandment, but submit to it, find rest. Just the opposite occurs for those who resist Jesus’ commandment. When Jesus’ yoke of discipleship rests on us, we rest. When we throw it off, we experience heaviness of soul. Matthew’s Gospel records Jesus as saying:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30; ESV).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer comments on Jesus’ message in Discipleship:
Those who follow Jesus’ commandment entirely, who let Jesus’ yoke rest on them without resistance, will find the burdens they must bear to be light. In the gentle pressure of this yoke they will receive the strength to walk the right path without becoming weary. Jesus’ commandment is harsh, inhumanly harsh for someone who resists it. Jesus’ commandment is gentle and not difficult for someone who willingly accepts it (Discipleship, page 39).
We all bear yokes and burdens one way or another. When we live as Lord of our own lives, we bear the weight of the world on our own shoulders. Only Jesus is meant to bear such weight. When we take Jesus’ yoke upon us, he does the heavy lifting in our lives. Given that Jesus is able to bear such a burden and that he is also gentle and lowly in heart, he does not weigh down on us as a taskmaster. As Matthew 12 tells us, unlike the religious and political authorities who weighted down on him, Jesus will not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick until he brings justice to the nations who will find their hope realized in him (Matthew 12:20-21).
When we submit to bear the yoke of the gentle and lowly Jesus who in turn bears our burdens, we live in keeping with his reordering of the universe and find rest. Rather than finding the wind beating us in the face and chest, we find God’s Spirit pushing us from behind and pulling us forward into God’s promised future when we follow Jesus’ way. This is often easier said than done, no matter what time of the year, week or day, from Christian holiday seasons and Sundays to Ordinary Time and Mondays through Saturdays. It is worth asking ourselves when we feel weighed down in our spirits: Have we taken off Jesus’ yoke of discipleship and tried to go forward in our own strength with our own agendas to save the nations? If and when that is the case, let’s quickly take up his yoke again and submit to Jesus’ gentle lead and course of action to bring healing and wholeness to our lives and to the world. Bear Jesus’ burden and find rest and peace.